The issue

Many countries have entered a period of uneconomic growth. Growth is uneconomic when the marginal costs are higher than marginal benefits. Not valuing the benefits we derive from ecosystems is a major contributor to this uneconomic growth. A mission of Ecological Economics is to ‘re-design value propositions’ so the real costs of economic activity are taken into account. Ecological Economics is a trans-disciplinary field of inquiry with a normative goal of fostering an ability to sustain and improve well-being through human activities within the carrying capacity of ecosystems in a socially fair way.


In 100 years NZ has recovered from the current period of ‘uneconomic growth’ and is economically developing. The country’s Natural Capital base is maintained as essential infrastructure. This intact ecological infrastructure has left us less vulnerable, but not immune, to a changed climate. We use technology and economic activities to work with Natural Capital. Lower dependency on Financial Capital has left NZ more resilient toward global financial upsets. New Institutions have emerged that give voice to ‘integrity of common assets’ and take into account the voices of future generations. Diversity is celebrated as a source of creativity. Return on Investment is measured in return on Natural, Social, Human as well as Built and Financial Capital. The ability to engage with complex challenges in a collaborative way is leading to unanticipated innovation. We have created institutions that provide meaningful employment with activities that stay within ecological carrying capacity. We are global citizens. Other countries, especially island nations, find the NZ model inspirational. The CEO of NZ is evaluated on how she maintains common assets: how we live off the interest of our Natural Capital, rather than eating into our asset base.

This vision for a society that values Natural, Social and Human capital is inspirational to some, but terrifying to others. A vision is judged by its clarity, not by its implementation pathway. With a 100-year vision, you collaboratively back track to what you need to do to achieve goals 50, 20, 5, 1 year from now. What does such a vision inspire us to do right now?

It is encouraging that the ES approach is popping up in various spatial planning exercises; whether for conservation (marine spatial planning in Hauraki Gulf), rural spatial planning (Waikato) or urban spatial planning (Auckland). Why not stitch the pieces together and develop a multi-scale integrated ecosystem services approach for the whole of NZ? 

I leave you to ponder: ‘When you look at a thing differently, the thing itself changes’.

Here is why NZ has much to gain from a multi-scale integrated and collaborative approach to Ecosystem Services

  1. NZ is well-endowed with Natural Capital. Abundant resources are easily taken for granted.
  2. NZ stands to gain much from making ES visible. This would provide a competitive advantage in international markets.
  3. There is meaningful employment opportunity associated with investment in Natural Capital.
  4. It will be financially impossible for NZ to continue substituting its Natural Capital for man-made Built Capital.
  5. Because NZ is an island, it has the ability to design a unique 100-year multi-scale spatial plan, taking values of ES into account.
  6. This will give us hotspots for investment in natural infrastructure across the entire landscape from local to regional, to national and global level.
  7. These services are produced and used across conservation, agricultural and urban areas alike.
  8. Including all areas and all ES at multiple scales allows for transparent tradeoffs.

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